This is a guest post written by David G. McAfee, religious studies graduate, author, and founder of The Party of Reason and Progress.
A small city in Washington state is at the center of a big debate over alleged religious discrimination and violations of the separation of the church and state.
Hundreds of Pasco residents plan to descend on City Hall next week to protest a proposed resolution that they say equates to a “government-sanctioned license to discriminate.”
The measure was introduced by Pasco City Councilman Bob Hoffman on Monday, the day before oral arguments in the Arlene’s Flowers case (in which the state and a same-sex couple sued a florist over her refusal to create floral arrangements celebrating a same-sex wedding ceremony).
“The timing of this was carefully planned and Hoffman knew in advance of the meeting that he had the votes necessary to move this Resolution forward to get it brought up for a vote,” Jennifer Goulet, the First Vice Chair for the Franklin County Democrats and a recent candidate for State Representation, wrote in an action alert. “Efforts have already been made by Arlene’s supporters to have at least 300 people in at Pasco City Hall to show support for the Resolution. Many will be coming over from the West Side.”
Goulet says Hoffman’s new Resolution is just “one small move in a larger chess game” in which the Religious Right seeks to roll back anti-discrimination laws in Washington and throughout the United States. She says those laws, which protect LGBT people, women, religious and non-religious minorities, people of color and more, are under siege.
The legal team behind the owner of Arlene’s Flowers is Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that claims the legal system “was built on a moral and Christian foundation.” Goulet says the group is clawing its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
She told me in a message:
“The Alliance Defending Freedom takes on cases like the Arlene’s Flowers one because their long game is getting the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn anti-discrimination laws or get exemptions for religious persons. They coordinate on the national level with other organizations like the one behind the Resolution, Family Policy Institute. We are up against a highly organized machine that counts on our lack of organization and, with Trumpence in office and Republicans sweeping offices across the nation at every level, this is a serious threat.”
Goulet, who is also on the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said this whole debacle originally caused her to consider running for city council to oppose Hoffman. She has since discovered she isn’t in his district.
“I will probably take another stab at State Rep in 2 years though. I really feel I am better suited for the Legislature, so want to hold out for that in 2 years.”
Goulet is objectively right about one thing: this is one small battle in the war against separation of church and state. Secular activists should remain vigilant if they want to prevent religions from dictating law.
David G. McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of The Book of Gods, The Belief Book, Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer, and Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings. He is also the founder of The Party of Reason and Progress. McAfee, who writes about science, skepticism, and faith, attended University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.
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